Mentally Ill Offenders
Joseph E. Jacoby
Crime by mentally ill people has become a matter of heightened public concern in recent years. The inpatient population of mental hospitals in the United States shrunk from a peak of 550,000 in 1955 to 70,000 in 2000. As a result, many severely mentally ill people who in earlier decades would have spent much of their lives as mental hospital patients now live elsewhere. Many cycle through periods of homelessness, brief psychiatric hospitalization, and incarceration in jail or prison. The relationship between crime and mental illness is complex. Most crime is committed by people who are not mentally ill. Similarly, most people with mental illness do not engage in criminal behavior, as illustrated in Figure 1 . Figure 1. The Conceptual Overlap Between Crime and Mental Illness For a small percentage of people, mental illness so distorts their perception or judgment that it causes them to commit crimes. Most crimes ...